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Historical Archives of the European Union - Department of History

Online exhibit at the HAEU focuses on modernization and environment

‘Environing Modernization: Exploring the photographic collection of the European Investment Bank’ is a digital history project that draws on archival photographs preserved in the fonds of the European Investment Bank.

19 December 2023 | Research


Trust in the power of technology and the notion of the mastery of nature are two principal themes identified by the curators of the newly published digital exhibit ‘Environing Modernization: Exploring the photographic collection of the European Investment Bank’. The exhibit was developed by historians Corinna Unger, Gilberto Mazzoli and Jacopo Cellini, with archivists Valérie Mathevon and Juan Alonso Fernández, and draws from the archival holdings of the European Investment Bank (EIB) at the Historical Archives of the European Union.

The exhibit is characterized by expertly and artfully composed photographs, commissioned to document and showcase large-scale infrastructure projects financed by the EIB in in the areas of water, agriculture, chemical manufacturing, industry and transport. Each chapter is framed with an explanatory text by Dr Mazzoli, and the photos are contextualized with related project information extracted by the archival fonds.

In her introduction, Professor Unger writes that the photos “are telling of the ways in which ‘nature’ at the time was perceived as a resource to be used freely and infinitely, mirroring the contemporary understanding that rural regions needed to be ‘modernized’ via industrialization.”

As Drs Mazzoli and Cellini explain, the balance between economic growth, modernization and environmental protection has evolved over time, and the historical images and documents found in the EIB collection illustrate the Bank’s early focus on promoting development and reducing disparities across regions.

An exhibit catalogue provides additional information on the selected projects, including illustrative maps.

Photo: EIB project Aquitaine-Chimie. Author unknown / HAEU, BEI-2144

Last update: 19 December 2023

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